The Demise of DG’s Sinfini Platform: From Critic To Convert

Sinfini_Music_LogoIt surprised me a little that the demise of UMG’s entry-level platform to Classical Music – SINFINI –  caused hardly a ripple when it was announced in December 2015 its activities would be wound down.

In fact so little a ripple was created, I missed the announcement altogether.

When Sinfini launched in 2012; created by outgoing UMG Chairman and Chief Executive Max Hole, I was highly critical of the entire enterprise being in agreement with music critic Igor Toronyi-Lalic’s view of Sinfini’s “ingratiating tweeness”.  I have since changed my mind.

The Classical Music business is a very poor business indeed. It suffers unheralded ignominies by its gatekeepers – the few remaining multinational record companies – because of its inability to make them vast revenues quickly.  Classical music product is extremely expensive to make (I know!); takes months or even years to plan and execute, only to be ever so quickly consigned to the 50% off ‘Sale’ bin ( if you remember when there were actual record stores?)

If there are real heroes in this ugly business, it is the niche, independent boutique record companies that are keeping the patient alive (if only barely).  But, the unpalatable truth is that the record companies simply don’t care because of the sheer size of their legacy and back catalog of classical music already recorded able to be repackaged and re-issued, ad infinitum, in any applicable technical format of the day.

What has this to do with Sinfini? Continue Reading →

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If You Listen Very Carefully….

In this informative discussion about ‘Music Director Searches’ for orchestras organised by the Conductors Guild (of which I am a Board member for purposes of disclosure) I was most impressed by comments offered by Henry Fogel.  Mr. Fogel is Dean of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. Between 2003-2008, Mr. Fogel was President and CEO of the League of American Orchestras.  In fact his list of professional accomplishments is extensive.

Mr. Fogel (and his son Karl) also run a website called HenrysRecords.org which is one of the most wonderful resources for classical music recordings available anywhere on the Internet.

The disclosure statement is important as the Conductors Guild is currently developing a new handbook on this specific topic – and one that presents quite contrary views to an extant document published by the League of American Orchestras.

This little Google Hangout online seminar has particulary good information for younger orchestral conductors trying to make the first big leap to a music director role – an issue specifically addressed by Mr. Fogel on several occasions.  The information from all participants in this seminar, including both Diane Wittry and Gabriel Lefkowitz, is honest and generally well-considered.

My only concern in this presentation is the rather limited understanding of the place and inclusion of contemporary composers in the orchestral repertoire and the somewhat unhelpful antagonism toward some types of contemporary orchestral music as expressed by several of the participants.  This topic might have better been avoided frankly, if only for the reason that the sentiments expressed tend to reinforce the outmoded and ill-informed attitudes commonly heard by many orchestra artistic administrative personnel.  It’s the classic chicken or the egg scenario.  Since I have written extensively on this in the past, I won’t mount my soapbox again here.

Also, pre-announcement to conclude today’s post:  Mark your calendars for the Australian Discovery Orchestra’s opening 2017-17 season concert on May 29, streamed live from the ADO website.

From late April also check out our 3D interactive environment where you can explore the world of the music we are presenting in this concert event.

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Kurt Masur and Pierre Boulez

Kurt_MasurAfter my diatribe the day before yesterday about the situation at ENO, I felt it was necessary to write something utterly positive. What could be positive about the passing of two great maestri you ask? Well what about reminiscences from long-serving and ex-orchestral musicians in the New York Philharmonic about both these illustrious conductors. Fortunately AFM’s Local 802 here in New York posts its magazine online. You can read the Reminiscenes article here.

But not only that, I would like to point out one paragraph in the article from long-serving double-bassist in the NYPhil., Orin O’Brien.  And I reprint it here for good measure:

“I would like to put in a word here for all orchestral musicians everywhere: it has been fashionable for music critics to write that “such-and-such an orchestra either likes or dislikes a conductor.” No attitude could be more wrongly portrayed. Every professional musician I have ever known has wished to collaborate with the kind of conductor exemplified by a Kleiber or a Bernstein, who allowed an orchestra to play its best. This means that each player, giving all that is possible to be his or her absolute best in every minute of a rehearsal or concert, is playing for the music, for the audience and for the conductor. I have never known any musician to want anything but to play beautifully, to serve the composer most of all. The miracle (which sometimes occurs at a rehearsal, not only at a concert) of a memorable flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon or horn solo, the delicate shimmer of a pianissimo cymbal, or a concertmaster’s tender arpeggio – those are precious, shared, ideal moments that form the character of an orchestra.”

You want Ms. O’Brien playing for you everyday if you conduct an orchestra!

More soon,

Kevin

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Wait, There is Something Really Wrong With This…..

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Picture by Geoff Pugh

This one comes way from left field.  On the day that I read that Maestro Mark Wigglesworth has resigned as Music Director of ENO, I also read this:

ENO head Cressida Pollock’s exclusive manifesto to save her company: ‘I can’t allow it to fail’

Umm, I’ve actually read this thrice.  The first time, I thought I must be in need of more coffee and be mis-reading the context of the piece; the second time made me realise that this is a volatile and questionably dubious position for Cressida Pollock to take – let alone publicly address – and after reading it a third time, I was shaking my head in wonder over its poor timing and the grasping nature of the ideas expressed.

Before I dissect this article, just let me say, that based on what I have read over the last year about the shenanigans at ENO, I actually like Ms. Pollock’s insights and interpretation of the challenges being faced by London’s alternate choice Opera organisation.  But there are a few alarm bells here worthy of interrogation.  Maybe Ms. Pollock wants to raise them?  If so, she has, at the very least, gained my attention.  My analysis here is unquestionably critical.  I think the piece, no doubt for all its best intentions, is severely misjudged.

Firstly, nothing is too big to fail and ENO adopting an imperious position as to its unassailability is contentious at the very least.  Because you don’t want something to happen, doesn’t make it an assured outcome.  Secondly, it’s not a question as to whether it is easy to read headlines and be dismayed for the future of Opera – Opera is in very serious trouble!  It’s in serious trouble globally (and certainly here in the USA) for the very reason that ENO is in the precarious state it finds itself.  It’s not relevant!  It could be – if the imperative for the staging of opera was turned on its head – but it’s not, so it is increasingly sidelined by a disinterested and uneducated public.

If you can’t face that truth, it doesn’t matter what “open conversations” are had about persuading audiences to turn off Netflix or, God forbid, attempt a persuasive argument about the “necessity of experiencing opera”.  It’s merely rhetoric.  No-one actually believes it, and if you adopt such a strategy for overcoming the immense and real imposts as a literal means in safeguarding Opera as an art form, you are unquestionably doomed.

Have you caught onto what I see as very concerning yet?

Continue Reading →

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Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Sir Mark Elder

Sir_Mark_ElderI have had the rare, and very great, privilege this week to observe and study both one of the great British conductors of this generation and one of the great American orchestras of any generation.

I have taken a week off to come and re-absorb myself in Sir Edward Elgar’s monumental Symphony No. 1 in Ab Major, Op. 55, conducted by Sir Mark Elder and performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

I wonder whether there is a better 20th-Century symphony than Elgar’s first?  For a very long time, I have held resolutely to the contention that William Walton’s mighty Symphony No. 1 in Bb Minor from 1935 was the apex of 20C British symphonic achievement.  But, after hearing this work assidusouly taken apart and expertly re-assembled by the British maestro, I fear I may have to re-think my position.

Elgar’s work is an extraordinarily tight and focused masterpiece of thematic lyricism and variation across a large canvas of both time and orchestral texture.  It’s also extremely challenging to perform for both conductor and orchestra.  Given that the last time this symphony was played in Chicago at Orchestra Hall was 1983 under the brilliant (and not well enough known British conductor, Raymond Leppard) it is not suprising that the very fine Chicago ensemble responded wonderfully under the expert stewardship of Sir Mark to ignite the engine of Elgar’s compositional constructs and style requirements. Continue Reading →

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Is There Really A Good Book On Conducting?

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Maestro Harold Farberman

I was forced, due to a commitment that got moved up in my schedule, to cancel giving a presentation at the recent CODA annual conference in Salt Lake City.  This was a disappointment as I had planned to give a an in-depth analysis on the difference between the work and attributes of musical directors for theatre compared to orchestral/opera conductors.  Are you surprised that there is a difference?  Well you wouldn’t be alone if you did.  Even conductors and musical directors of theatre don’t seem to know the difference much of the time.  As part of the research for that presentation, I was reviewing all the known resources on the ‘Art of Conducting’ including every published text on teaching conducting – and there are a few!

The problem is most of them aren’t very good.  I was particularly bemused by the author of a book on all things to do with the ‘baton’ published within the the last decade, who is adamant that the book, The Grammar of Conducting by Max Rudolf (multiple editions) should be on every conductor’s bookshelf.  Alas, it wasn’t on mine, so I thought I should both acquire it and read it.  I did.  Oh, dear, it’s really very out-dated and is based on the idiotic assumption that conducting is derived from beat (or beating) patterns!  So, by the way, the author who recommended the book similarly promulgates this approach.

Are there any ‘real’ conductors out there who actually think orchestra players give a toss about beat patterns?  I don’t think so – because they all realise this one basic truth:  Orchestra players CAN count.  They don’t need conductors to ‘beat’ them to death.  There are exceptions to this paradigm; for example, in polymetrical music where rhythmic pulse is the central construct in compositional terms (especially in quick tempi) and, in music with multiple cross-rhythms. Continue Reading →

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